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September 13, 2012

Recovering Lost Files: A Guide To The Confused

Recovering lost and deleted files is one of the most confusing areas for many computer users. While there’s plenty of solution out there, most people are simply in the dark about what they can do when that file they’re sure was in that folder just isn’t there anymore.

It’s Not Always Your Fault

Lost files aren’t always your fault. Sometimes, it is — you mistakenly delete a file or trash an entire folder without thinking about its contents. Other times, though, lost files can be due to a system crash, a malware attack or some other person who used your computer then mistakenly deleted them. Either way, not all hope is lost when a file disappears — that’s what recovery programs are for.

You Don’t Need Recovery Software Installed Before A File Is Lost

One of the first mistakes people make is assuming that recovery software needs to be installed on their machines before a file disappears in order to recover it. That’s a common misconception.

In reality, recovery programs don’t work by keeping track of all your files and restoring them from a database when needed. That’s not file recovery — that’s backup software, something you should also consider getting.

Instead, file recovery applications work post-backup. That is, they search the physical disk for traces of the actual file, then rebuilds it using the information they’re able to find. This means that if you lose a file today and it’s not in your backup, you can download a file recovery program afterwards to restore it.

File Recovery Is Often A Last Ditch Stand

When a file goes missing, don’t automatically go for the file recovery program. Do the preliminaries first: search your entire PC for the filename, check the Recycle Bin and check your backups. If you can’t get the file from these three sources, that’s when a file recovery software comes in handy, since it can literally create the file based on trace information left along the nooks and crannies of your computer.

File Recovery Programs Can’t Fix Everything

As good as many modern file recovery programs are, they’re not 100%guaranteed to work. If you’ve only recently lost the file, chances are great that you’ll get it back. However, if the computer is frequently used and there’s a long gap between deletion and recovery, the greater your chances of not getting a full restore.

Why? The way a computer works, when a file is deleted, it’s not actually physically removed. Instead, the file system merely marks those areas the file previously occupied as free space. That means, information about the file is still there, but it’s no longer recognized as an actual file. When the computer needs that space, it will then overwrite whatever is previously there.

The more times a computer is used to save data to a hard disk, the greater the chances those areas the file you want to restore previously occupied will be overwritten by something else. Hence, the importance of using a file recovery program as soon as you recognize the need to get a file back.

File Recovery Doesn’t Replace Backing Up

There, I said it. If you’re not backing up your files, you’re doing yourself a disservice. File recovery is helpful, but wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t have to rely on it? Regular backups is still the best way to ensure you never lose any important data, bar none. Having a file recovery software is just a nice addition to that, rather than a full-time replacement.

Almost Anything Can Be Recovered

Contrary to what some people think, file recovery programs aren’t just for the hard disks inside a computer. Instead, they can be used for any storage media, including external drives, SD cards, USB drives and smartphone storage. This is because they deal with the storage itself — and most of our current storage options use, essentially, the same technologies. Just hook up the storage in question to your program and run the recovery program to work on it.

Partial Recovery Isn’t So Bad

For files that have been gone for too long, most software can still recover parts of it, just not 100%. In these cases, it may still be worth restoring, especially if the software includes facilities for recreating the original. While it’s never been foolproof, it’s worth the try to get the software to try and guess the missing components. It’s not as if you have a lot more options at this point.

More importantly, though, if you’re trying to recover documents like text and similar files with simple formatting, less than 100% recovery can still get you a good chunk of the files. Say, you’ve got the middle 5 pages of a 100 page Word document missing. That’s still way better than having to redo everything from scratch, isn’t it?

File Recovery Programs Can’t Fix Dead Drives

If your hard drive has a physical problem (e.g. it got burnt with an electrical surge), file recovery programs won’t be able to help. Consumer-grade file recovery apps need access to your hard drive before they can work their magic. Instead, your next stop should be a data recovery service. They exist, but their prices aren’t usually cheap since they literally run a lab for this thing and most people who require data from dead drives probably deem their content invaluable.

The Best File Recovery Program

In all honesty, there are too many file recovery programs out there to give a fair assessment of one being the best. Each brings its own set of features to the table, some of which may be more helpful to you than others. With that said, we do have our recommended file recovery software list based on our own tests. Your own experience, of course, may vary.

There are both free and paid file recovery programs available. My suggestion is to try out free options first. If they prove unable to help your cause, then try one of the paid titles we reviewed. Chances are, the extra features and capabilities will be exactly what you need to recover those missing items in your hard drive.


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